Monday, September 25, 2017 Elyria 64°


Chris Assenheimer: Indians still in contention for playoff spot, but ...


CLEVELAND -- It’s a good thing another Browns season is upon us, and that the Cavaliers’ LeBron James is back on his royal throne in Cleveland, because this Indians season is over.

Don’t really care that through Friday the Central Division standings indicated the Indians were only seven games out of first place. And, yeah, don’t really care that the American League wild-card derby showed Cleveland five games off the pace, either.

It’s over. Those that follow baseball on a regular basis, know it. Tribe fans, who failed to show up to the park all season long and might finish last in the majors in attendance, certainly know it. And whether they say it or not -- of course, they can’t -- manager Terry Francona and the Indians know it, too.

So, you’re making a serious run at qualifying for the postseason with Jose Ramirez, Tyler Holt, Chris Dickerson, Roberto Perez and the boys running out there on a regular basis -- not too mention, a number of key veterans who haven’t pulled their weight all year?

Good luck.

Unseating three-time defending division champion Detroit was a tough enough challenge, but now the undermanned Indians are forced to overcome a surging Kansas City team that looks like the real deal with a little over a month remaining in the regular season.

The Indians look like a little league team -- just watch Friday’s series opener against Houston as proof -- not a playoff contender, no matter what the standings say.

How did the Indians, the American League’s darlings in Francona’s debut season last year, fall from grace so quickly? No matter what Kenny Lofton says, they were a playoff team in 2013.

So, who’s to blame for the Tribe failing to resemble a postseason player this year? You name it.

A big finger has to be pointed in the direction of general manager Chris Antonetti, who shared some of the credit for returning the Indians to the postseason last year.

How did Antonetti build on that success this offseason? He signed David Murphy. His trading-deadline approach didn’t hurt the Indians in 2013, but it certainly didn’t help this year.

With his team in contention and help needed in nearly every department, Antonetti traded two of the best players on the roster -- starting pitcher Justin Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Both were struggling, but instead of improving the club, Antonetti made it worse.

While Oakland landed Jon Lester, St. Louis landed John Lackey and division rival Detroit landed David Price, the Indians continue to employ T.J. House and a host of other unproven pitchers in their rotation.

Antonetti said he was involved in three or four trade discussions right up until the final minutes of the deadline -- just so Indians fans know that he was working those phones hard, trying to improve the team and all.

Choose to believe that if you will, but the Indians weren’t mentioned as serious suitors for any of the three marquee pitchers. They were mentioned early in the Price speculation, but were nowhere to be found at the end.

Usually, inactivity at the deadline or otherwise can be blamed on ownership, which until prior to the 2013 season, had failed to spend competitively. But Antonetti said financial limitations weren’t an issue.

Well, then?

The Indians keep saying they aren’t willing to rent a player, while losing valuable parts of their future -- the same tired approach they’ve taken for years, and one that has paid off with two playoff trips in over a decade.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t pick and choose your chances to contend for a playoff berth. If you’re in it, you give it a run. You never know when that opportunity will arise again. Playing for the future is fine when you’re big spenders such as the Yankees and Dodgers, who have the money to sign other credible players while their prospects mature.

The Indians don’t have that luxury and probably never will.

I have trouble criticizing the manager -- always have -- especially when it’s one who has won two World Series titles. So I’m not going to drop a whole lot of the blame for this debacle of a season at Francona’s feet. I mean, how many games did Tito cost the Indians? I can’t think of one.

No, ultimately, it comes down to the players. Those players lead the majors in errors, already committing more than they did all of last season. Those players, outside of Michael Brantley, have struggled to produce consistent offense all year -- especially key projected contributors Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis. Those players have formed an average club that predictably has hovered around the .500 mark all season.

Anything can happen. The Indians could turn it around and prove me wrong. In the end, though, I think they can be called “Yeah, but” contenders. Yeah, the standings say they are in contention for a postseason spot.

But ...

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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